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TPS Bond Supporters Make One Last Push As County GOP Remains Opposed

Matt Trotter

Tulsa Public Schools boosters took one more shot on Thursday at drumming up support for a $414 million bond package on the ballot Tuesday.

The bond package is split among four propositions covering building improvements, technology, transportation and learning materials.

University of Tulsa history professor Dr. Kristen Oertel served on the 2021 bond committee. Speaking at a news conference at Central Library, Oertel said the $354 million TPS bond — then the largest in state history — helped convince her family to move to Tulsa.

"That knowledge that the community was supporting its public schools with a bond issue like this was key to our choosing a house in TPS boundaries and taking the job at the University of Tulsa and moving to this community," she said.

Oertel's son recently graduated from Booker T. Washington High School, and her daughter will go there next year.

Former TPS fine arts director Dr. Ann Tomlins said while bonds usually cover nuts and bolts, this package also includes funding for a wide range of arts-related purchases, from kilns to band uniforms.

"The arts are essential to kids. They are a safe place for kids to go, a place to learn to create, a place to learn to solve problems and to develop environments that are, frankly, joyful," Tomlins said.

Supporters have not taken this bond vote for granted. The Tulsa County Republican Party has come out against the package. Chair Ronda Vuillemont-Smith said the district has not convinced them the last bond issue was put to good use.

"You know, in 2015 they came out and they asked for $415 million, and with that $415 million, we have not seen where the quality of education has increased," Vuillemont-Smith said.

Enrollment declines and shuttered schools since 2015 are also concerns for the county GOP.

"They renovated schools and then shut them down, and there were parents that begged for schools not to be shut down," Vuillemont-Smith said.

The Tulsa County Republican Party is planning a rally opposing the bond package Monday evening before the TPS Board meeting.

Bond propositions require 60% supermajorities to pass. In 2015, all propositions got more than 72%, while in 2010, all got more than 80%.

Note: KWGS is licensed to the University of Tulsa.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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